The fifth edition of the World Baseball Classic is well underway as the teams enter their final matches in the Group stages.
Team USA have to beat Colombia to confirm their entry into the Quarter-Finals stage while Colombia have to win and rely on other results to help them qualify for the next round.
|What||United States v Colombia|
|Where||Chase Field, Phoenix, Arizona|
|When||02:00, Thursday 16th March|
|How to watch||BT Sport|
There is huge pressure on the USA to beat Colombia in their final pool fixture.
They have beaten Great Britain, lost to Mexico, but easily defeated Canada in their previous fixtures.
Colombia meanwhile shocked Mexico before suffering surprising losses to Great Britain and Canada which means that they have to beat the USA to qualify.
A loss for Colombia would mean they finish in last place in the group and they would need to qualify for the next World Baseball Classic in 2026.
The expectations are high for the United States as they look to retain the trophy that they won for the first time in 2017. Failing to advance out of the top two positions would be a huge blow for such a star-studded line-up. They have also had the advantage of a day off, while Colombia lost to Canada.
These two sides have met before in the World Baseball Classic, but only on one other occasion. That was an extra-inning 3-2 win for the USA during the group stage in 2017. Had Colombia won on that occasion then they would have advanced instead of the USA.
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If Mexico defeat Canada and the United States beat Colombia then both sides would qualify for the next stage with the Mexicans holding top spot as they beat team USA in the group match-up.
USA would then finish in second place and play against the winners of Group D - Venezuela. Mexico would then play Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico depending on the outcome of Group D’s final matches.
Colombia got off to a great start in Pool C, beating Mexico in a shock win largely thanks to first baseman Reynaldo Rodriguez who delivered two key moments to tip the tight game in favour of the Colombians. In-front of a very raucous pro-Mexican fanbase, Rodriguez silenced the crowd with a two-run home run homer in the fifth and an RBI single in the seventh inning.
They followed that win up with an insipid performance against Great Britain, losing 7-5, followed by a 5-0 loss to Canada. They will certainly go into this fixture as vast underdogs and will have to search for the intensity that enveloped them in their opening fixture against Mexico.
Players like Gio Urshela and Elias Diaz will have to use their experience to try and stop this Team USA juggernaut.
For the final game showdown, USA will have Merrill Kelly on the mound. The Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher will be playing on home soil at Chase Field in Phoenix. In 2022, the 34-year-old had a 13-8 record with an ERA of 3.37.
Colombia will send 21-year-old Luis De Avila to the pitcher’s mound. He is with the Atlanta Braves organisation in the Minor Leagues and was attributed to the Rome Braves in April 2022.
With his minor league side last season, De Avila had a 6-8 record with an ERA of 3.49. There is no doubt this will be a daunting task for the likes of Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt.
St Louis Cardinals’ third baseman Nolan Arenado has had a great tournament to date impressing with his stellar defence and consistency with the bat.
The former Colorado Rockie is one of two players to return from the 2017 tournament winning roster. The seven-time All-Star has been a steady presence at the top of the US line-up and through three games he has gone 4-for-11 with three doubles and four RBI’s.
Speaking to MLB.com, Arenado said: “The environment is very similar to the playoff experience that I’ve been in. Wearing USA and having fans chanting that, it just hits a little bit different.”
As it’s likely that USA will finish as runners-up in Pool C, they will play Venezuela at loandepot Park in Miami on Friday 17th March.
However, Colombia could have a say in the final group positions and make the runners-up place their own. Either way Colombia will have something to say about the situation.